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Ravens Insider: Sorry, Ravens fans. You’re stuck with Tony Romo and Jim Nantz. | ANALYSIS


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Let’s get this out of the way first: Calling an NFL game isn’t easy.

It can be difficult for even the most experienced football observers to follow what’s happening on any given play, let alone break it down in real time before the next snap. You can’t fake it. That’s why play-by-play announcers and color analysts who are prepared and knowledgeable stand out above the rest.

For many years, Jim Nantz and Tony Romo were at the top of the list. Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, joined the CBS booth in 2017, just one year after his playing career ended. He immediately became a star, earning praise for his excited reactions, detailed breakdowns and ability to predict plays before they happened.

From 2018 to 2020, Nantz and Romo ranked first in Awful Announcing’s annual reader vote of the NFL’s best broadcast crews. But their reputation started to change. They fell to fourth in 2022 and sixth in 2023, with the website noting last week increasing “backlash towards Romo and his broadcasting style” and that “the novelty of his exuberance has worn off.”

Take, for example, some odd moments from Sunday night’s call of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-24 win over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional round:

  • Nantz remarked that the last time Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs played at Buffalo, there were zero fans at Highmark Stadium because of coronavirus restrictions. In an attempt at humor, Romo said: “Well, that’s how many fans I play in front of normally at my house. I pretend like they’re all there, but there’s zero.”
  • After a go-ahead touchdown pass from Bills quarterback Josh Allen to receiver Khalil Shakir late in the third quarter, Romo remarked that it was the first touchdown given up all season by standout Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, an excellent observation. But he followed up by saying, “This is a dime, not a donkey, by Josh Allen!”
  • Perhaps continuing a running joke he started earlier this season by referring to music star Taylor Swift as Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s “wife,” he reacted to a camera shot of Swift celebrating in front of Kelce’s older brother Jason by saying, “there’s your brother-in-law, right behind you.”
  • After Bills tight end Dalton Kincaid was penalized for illegal batting when he knocked a fumble out of bounds to prevent the Chiefs from recovering it, Romo said “the old Franco Harris play to tip the ball forward to your teammate is no longer allowed.” He apparently confused the “Immaculate Reception” by the Pittsburgh Steelers legend with another famous play known as “The Holy Roller,” a forward fumble by Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler that led to a game-winning touchdown.
  • In the Bills’ win over the Steelers in the wild-card round, Romo was apparently unaware that running back Jaylen Warren had become a big part of Pittsburgh’s offense because he didn’t call many Steelers games. He also made an awkward comment during a break in the action in reference to the national holiday, with no follow-up: “What a day. Martin Luther King Jr. Deserves to have a day named after him.”

For Romo, a few gaffes are understandable when speaking on live television for as many hours as he does. But he’s reportedly earning close to $18 million annually as part of a 10-year contract he signed with CBS last year, making him one of the highest-paid announcers.

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2017, file photo, Tony Romo and Jim Nantz work in the broadcast booth before an NFL football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals in Green Bay, Wis. Nantz and Romo were inseparable when CBS broadcast the Super Bowl two years ago. Next week, they won't see each other until they are in the broadcast booth a couple hours prior to kickoff. Keeping announcers separated until game day has been standard practice this season due to the Coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
For many years, Jim Nantz, right, and Tony Romo were considered the best NFL broadcasting duo. Not anymore. (Morry Gash/AP file)

His decline has been apparent to the network, too. The New York Post reported in February that CBS executives “staged something of an intervention” with Romo the previous offseason to motivate him to take his job more seriously and be better prepared.

Compared with other top NFL broadcast booths, namely Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen of Fox, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman of ESPN and Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth of NBC, Nantz and Romo are clearly a tier below. (Though it should be noted that CBS’ production crew delivers a high-quality presentation of the game with graphics, replays, music and camera work, while sideline reporters such as Tracy Wolfson and Evan Washburn are among the best in the game.)

Olsen, a former tight end, has been exceptional at explaining the nuance of the game. Aikman, the former Cowboys star quarterback, offers pointed analysis while also being unafraid of sharing his opinion — including calling out the Philadelphia Eagles for their apparent lack of effort in an embarrassing wild-card round loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Collinsworth is perhaps just as polarizing as Romo, but he at least brings joy and enthusiasm and is well aware of important trends, analytics and modern philosophy as the majority owner of Pro Football Focus.

Meanwhile, Burkhardt, Buck and Tirico deliver the appropriate level of excitement during big moments, something Nantz has done inconsistently of late. At times, some of his calls during the Bills-Steelers and Chiefs-Bills games felt as if he was watching an early-season matchup between two mediocre teams. (Though he deserves credit for his call of Tyler Bass’ missed 44-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter Sunday: “Wide. Right. The two most dreaded words in Buffalo have surfaced again.”)

Unfortunately for Ravens and other NFL fans, Nantz and Romo will be all too familiar during the postseason. In addition to broadcasting Sunday’s AFC championship game, the first at M&T Bank Stadium and the first in Baltimore since 1971, CBS will also have the call for Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas on Feb. 11.

Players and coaches need to bring their best in the postseason to avoid getting sent home. For many fans, these games provide some of the most memorable moments of their lives. It’s only fair that announcers treat their jobs with the appropriate level of preparation and respect.

AFC championship game

Chiefs at Ravens

Sunday, 3 p.m.


Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 3 1/2

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